The world of information technology (IT) is one of constant change. Ways of doing business that have been in place for decades are being completely rewritten, practically overnight. Now, more than ever, organizations and businesses—even small, traditionally analog operations like mom-and-pop bookstores or corner sub shops—need expert help to make sense of the turbulent intersection of business and computing. They need IT systems analysts.
So, what is an IT systems analyst? We'll answer this question and address other topics in this article, including:
You know the stereotypical "tech guy" who knows better than everyone else? Well, a systems analyst actually does know better and gets paid to share that knowledge. They study how a business uses IT—computer hardware and software, cloud services, and so on—and provide recommendations on how to improve the systems it has in place or implement new ones.
Basically, if an executive wants to know the best way to accomplish something using IT, they hire a systems analyst to provide the answer. Examples abound: think of all the dentists' and doctors' offices around the country that are working to adopt electronic health records (EHR). It's a perfect task for a systems analyst. Don't believe us? Conduct a cursory search for "EHR Systems Analyst" jobs and see how many hits it returns (hint: a lot).
Analysis is only one part of an IT systems analyst's job. They are also involved in the design and implementation of new information systems. Typical responsibilities include:
Not quite. IT systems analysts act primarily in an advisory capacity, so while they need to be familiar with a wide variety of IT subjects, they typically don't need to get involved in writing code, wiring components, installing new computers, or other technical tasks.
That said, they do need an understanding of how the coders and other technicians work to provide informed advice. (Not to mention that tech teams generally hate being given advice by analysts who don't seem to know what they actually do.)
The outlook for systems analysts is excellent. In particular, the ongoing boom in cloud computing for businesses large and small—coupled with the burgeoning use of IT services in healthcare—is expected to drive increased demand for professionals.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that systems analysts earn a median income of about $89,000 per year (or $43 per hour), as of 2018—which puts them near the middle of the pack in terms of IT salaries. The BLS also predicts a 9 percent increase in the number of systems analyst jobs between 2018 and 2028, which is faster than the average growth rate for the entire job market.
Good news: entry-level systems analyst jobs do exist, so it's entirely possible to start your career in business technology as a junior systems analyst. Other IT and business jobs make good entry points as well, including:
Because a systems analyst needs a broad understanding of business and technology, there are few (if any) entry-level jobs in IT or business administration that constitute a dead end. Aspiring IT systems analysts should look for jobs that position them well to observe how IT is used across their enterprise.
Depending on the size and needs of an organization, it may employ several ranks of analysts internally, with significant increases in pay and perks for senior analysts as compared to early-career analysts. That said, systems analysts can also move up the corporate ladder by advancing to management positions (e.g. information systems manager), and, ultimately, executive positions like information systems director or chief technology officer.
One interesting job, which sits slightly aside of the career track described above, would be an architect position—systems architect, enterprise architect, network architect, etc. Architects utilize many of the same skills as system analysts but require much more experience, scope of planning ability, and solid business skills. Accordingly, they command high base salaries and enjoy greater prestige and responsibility, typically working near the executive level.
If you've been reading about careers in IT, you've probably noticed that our description of systems analyst sounds an awful lot like someone else's description of a systems architect, or technology architect, or IT analyst, and so on. Here are the major differences between the two roles:
There really is a lot of overlap between the skills and responsibilities of different IT roles, and the scope of a specific job may vary dramatically depending on the context. In practical terms: smaller companies tend to employ fewer people, so individuals may specialize less or find themselves pinch-hitting for other jobs as needed. Second, there's frustratingly little standardization when it comes to job titles, so you'll want to at least skim any job listing that sounds like it could be similar. That's the only way to make sure it's not just a "systems analyst" position under a different name.
Systems analysts need a firm grounding in the basics of information technology and the principles of modern computing. A variety of bachelor's degrees will qualify you for this career, but here are three standbys to consider:
Other, more idiosyncratic or specialized IT degrees (e.g., human-computer interaction) are also perfect viable starting points. It's less common, but it's also possible to approach with an undergraduate business degree, in which case a judicious amount of coursework (or a minor) in computer science will be beneficial.
Nope. As with many IT careers, anything more than a bachelor's degree is strictly optional. That's not to say it's a bad idea: there are several benefits to pursuing a master's in IT. Having an advanced degree can help set your resume apart. At least some employers will be impressed if your highest level of education is higher than other applicants'.
A Master of Business Administration (MBA) can be particularly helpful for those with a strong technical background who want to shore up their business knowledge in pursuit of architectural or executive positions. It's possible to specialize your MBA to focus on information systems. There are even dedicated Masters of Business Administration in Information Systems programs.
Obviously, an analyst needs strong critical-thinking and analysis skills. But systems analysts bridge the gap between "IT people" and "non-IT people" in an organization; they need excellent soft skills to do so effectively. Here's a quick breakdown of critical skills:
Imagine you're working on a garden. Would you rather be sketching your ideas, researching your flower options so that you'll have blooms throughout the year; or, would you prefer to be getting your hands dirty turning the soil, planting seeds, and pulling weeds?
If you know you're the type of person who prefers straightforward, direct, and technically challenging work—the latter type in the gardening metaphor above—then you may find a systems analyst's more-abstract role a bit unsatisfying.
Another useful question to ask yourself is: what is it about working in IT that interests you? If you know you have a clear and specific interest—you're passionate about accessible user experience (UX) design, for instance—then you may be better served looking for a more specialized job.
If you're only starting your education or career in IT, you don't need to know for sure if systems analysis is the right path for you. Knowledge and hands-on experience will help you make this choice.
We can't give you experience, but we can help you gain more knowledge. Still interested in an IT career? Here are some things to do next:
Questions or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org